Tag Archives: John Partridge

Diversity Uncaged

LA CAGE AUX FOLLES

Birmingham Hippodrome, Tuesday 16th May, 2017

 

This touring production could not be timelier.  With anti-gay sentiments (aka idiocy) on the rise globally, the show reminds us that people are people and love is love.

In St Tropez, a nightclub has gained notoriety for its drag queens, foremost among whom is the delectable Zaza, or Albin when he’s at home, partner to the club’s owner, Georges.  When Georges’s son, Jean-Michele announces his engagement to the daughter of bigot-in-chief Dindon, an old-school politician, Albin finds himself edged out of the picture – and he’s not the kind to go sit in the corner…

It’s a conventional musical about alternative lifestyles, with its heart on its sleeve and its message loud, proud and clear.

John Partridge is in his element as Albin/Zaza, capturing the character’s brittleness as well as the camp mannerisms, and boy, can he hold a note!  It takes a while for Albin’s warmth to come out but when it does, it is beautifully understated in the show’s most touching moments.  Partridge’s Albin is a Northerner, coming across not so much as French Riviera as Canal Street, Manchester.  Adrian Zmed is more grounded as the charming Georges, while Dougie Carter sings like a dream as Jean-Michele – clearly a young man with a glittering future ahead.  Samson Ajewole is a scream as Jacob the flamboyant housemaid, showing us that families come in all sorts of configurations.   Alexandra Robinson is sweet as fiancée Anne, just as Paul F Monaghan is blustering as bigot-to-be-pilloried Dindon.  At his side, Su Douglas is Madame Renaud, with a couple of surprises of her own.

The extra-special treat of the night is Marti Webb as restaurant owner Jacqueline.  She’s still got it, that clear, strong voice, that poise, that presence.  Marvellous.

Harvey Fierstein’s book is funny and moving.  Jerry Herman’s score contains some iconic numbers (I Am What I Am, The Best of Times, Look Over There…) and the lyrics are witty and poignant.

A troupe of chorines fills out the musical numbers with more feathers than an ostrich sanctuary and more sequins than ten years of Strictly Come DancingLa Cage may offer colourful escapism but in truth it tells us that there are more ways of living in the real world than conservatives and prigs would have us believe.  This could well be one of the most important musicals ever written, especially since there are people and movements around who think we gays are somehow less than human.

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Adrian Zmed and John Partridge being fabulous

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Jazzed Up

CHICAGO The Musical

New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Monday 12th December, 2016

 

I’ve seen this Kander and Ebb musical two or three times before and have always come away wanting.  In the past I have found the characters and their actions reprehensible – this still holds true but I think this time, with this touring production, I am an older and I hope wiser man.  I appreciate now the vaudevillian setting of the piece, not merely as an alienation device (we’re not meant to like these people) but as a format in itself.  The story is presented as a series of vaudeville numbers in a range of styles.  The (excellent) jazz orchestra dominates the space.  There is no concession to scenery or much to costume.  It’s a performance about performance, as murderess Roxie Hart rehearses for her court appearance.  More than that, it’s a satire about how we as a society afford notoriety to the worst kinds of people.  Criminals, liars, cheats and manipulators – these are portrayed as attractive, by sheer force of the actors’ talent.  But the format keeps us at a distance from the characters and we must remember to see them for what they truly are.

The show gets off to a cracking start with Sophie Carmen-Jones as Velma Kelly, a sultry siren writhing her way through the iconic All That Jazz.   Ann Reinking’s choreography is as sharp and sensual as Fosse would have intended.  Hayley Tamaddon is an indefatigable firecracker as Roxie, with her eye on the main prize: fame and fortune.  Every move she makes, every note she sings, is perfectly in character.  As her hard-done-by husband, Neil Ditt attracts our sympathy – Amos is the only moral character in the piece but in this world of topsy-turvy morality, he is weak and ineffectual, while swanky hotshot lawyer Billy Flynn thrives.  As Flynn, John Partridge is in his element with his matinee idol looks and his belter of a voice – despite all the scantily clad females on show, his are the best pair of lungs!  Soul legend Mica Paris looks and sounds at home as the corrupt prison matron Mama Morton – her introductory number is a highlight of the night.  Also impressive is the Cell Block Tango and Velma and Mama bemoaning the lack of Class.  “The whole world’s gone low-brow,” they sing.  Ain’t that the truth!

There is energetic support from a crack chorus, including a surprising soprano from A D Richardson’s Mary Sunshine and Francis Foreman cuts a dash as Roxie’s ill-fated lover, Fred.

This is Kander and Ebb’s strongest score – the tunes keep on coming.  It is also their strongest social comment.  Although the play is set in 1920s, gangster-run Chicago, it is all too relevant today, when the media is complicit in the rise of some of the worst ogres humanity has to offer (I’m looking at you, BBC and Farage, and at Trump).  Criminals and undesirables don’t just become famous these days; they get elected to office!

My applause is not for the characters but for the performers.  Chicago is an unusually intelligent musical, probably the best Brechtian show that Brecht and Weill didn’t write.  So rouge your knees and get down to the New Alexandra for a lively alternative to the usual Christmas fare.

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John Partridge and Hayley Tamaddon (Photo: Catherine Ashmore)

 


Snow White Drifts

SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS

Birmingham Hippodrome, Saturday 21st December, 2013

 

You can depend on the Birmingham Hippodrome to provide a Christmas show that is opulent, extravagant, spectacular, dripping with glitter and with big-name stars.  This year is no exception but what sets this production above some of the recent offerings is its sheer entertainment value.  This is an extremely funny show indeed.

All eight of the title characters, however, are hardly in it.  Danielle Hope’s Snow White gets a couple of opportunities to belt out ballads (which she does very well) but doesn’t get to interact with the seven little men in whose cottage she takes refuge.  As for those seven little men, here we don’t get actors who are dwarfs; we get actors in novelty costumes scuttling around, lip-synching to a pre-recorded track, it seems to me.  It’s a fun moment when they first appear but the joke wears thin – then again, they have so little to do on stage, it hardly matters how they are presented*.

This production is not so much a pantomime as a variety show with a pantomime twist and – it turns out – there is nothing wrong with this approach.  Where do we get to see old-school variety anymore?

Gok Wan gets things off to a flying start as the Man in the Mirror, swinging above the stage in a frame like a glittered toilet seat.  This is Wan’s first outing of this type and proves himself game for a laugh even if his production number is a bit of a stretch too far.  Eastenders’s John Partridge is the dashing Prince, a Royal song-and-dance man, reminding us of his roots in dance and musical theatre, and works as a warm-up act at the start of both halves.   He also struts and poses in proper panto style – he is an all-round entertainer and easy on the eye too.

Another consummate performer, Gary Wilmot, is the Dame.  He is underused, I feel.  Yes, he sings a comic song about baltis in Birmingham and another of mawkish sentiment about being a mother, but on the whole he is very much relegated to a supporting role for the comedic antics of the others.  The Dame has two sons, you see, and we see a lot of them.  There is Muddles – ventriloquist Paul Zerdin, who gets a lot of stage time to give us his act, including pulling a couple from the audience and using them as life-size dummies – and there is Oddjob, played by the energetic Matt Slack, who openly acknowledges his Brian-Conleyesque approach.  They are both very entertaining and bring a lot of energy and laughter – at the expense of the drama of the fairytale.

It falls to the fabulous Stephanie Beacham to keep the story going as the Wicked Queen “Sadista”.  Miss Beacham makes an elegant villain with claws and spikes and a voice that drips evil.  It is she above all who anchors the show in pantomime rather than let it fly off into full-blown music hall.

Producer/director Michael Harrison goes for glamour and glitz rather than drama and danger.  It’s a show about surface rather than what’s underneath and, in this instance, it’s none the poorer for it.  There is one sequence, a silly song about alternative jobs the comic characters could do instead of working for the Queen that gets the biggest reaction of the night.  It involves a frying pan, a feather duster, a cricket bat and a policeman’s truncheon and a breathtaking display of comic timing, demonstrating the delight that can be derived from watching skilled performers live on stage.

This Snow White may have drifted from a purist’s view of pantomime but it’s a hell of an enjoyable night out.

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*Cheeky plug: The dwarfs reminded me of a crime novel what I wrote